Despite bankruptcy warning, Antioch Council affirms $9.2 million pay, benefits hike

Mayor Wright: “These are contracts that are going to hurt us going forward”

By Dave Roberts

A City Council majority on Tuesday granted more than $9 million in pay and benefit increases to city employees over five years, despite warnings from residents that it could lead to bankruptcy and concerns from the two newest council members that it could put the city in a financial bind when the city’s Measure C half-cent sales tax revenue expires in 2021.

The previous council in November unanimously passed the compensation package in the form of tentative agreements. Tuesday’s action, which was approved by the three council members who previously voted for it while new members Mayor Sean Wright and Councilman Lamar Thorpe abstained, approved the memoranda of understanding that made the tentative agreements official.

The compensation package will cost the city $1,844,285 in the current fiscal year, which adds up to $9.2 million over the length of the contracts, although the cost will be higher due to future pay increases. About 80% of the compensation increase will go to the police, including a 4.5% wage hike for sworn officers and 2.5% for non-sworn officers. Other union groups, including confidential employees, engineers and management, will receive annual pay hikes of 2-3%. Various retirement and educational benefit increases are also included.

Two members of the public pleaded with the council to not grant the compensation hike, warning that it could plunge the city into bankruptcy, which the city flirted with during the depth of the Great Recession.

“Council, I implore you to vote down these contracts,” said Marty Fernandez. “You’re supposed to represent the citizens of Antioch – not the unions, not the employees, but the citizens. Your own financial director says that we are headed for bankruptcy in a couple years. This will jet propel us into bankruptcy. A few years ago one of the smartest men I know, [former] Councilman Gary Agopian, said during the contract negotiations that wages should be frozen and let’s take a good look at the big picture. This is truer now than it ever was.

“I beg the five of you to freeze wages and hiring and take a good long look at the finances and the future of this city. This is probably the most important vote this council will ever take. If you want Measure C extended, the city has to tighten its belt and not give away the farm and hope for the best. Because the voters of Antioch are not stupid. They are watching you. And no amount of money or signs will convince them to give you more money.

“Start with a one-year contract and a 2% raise for everyone if you have to give them, and see where you are at financially. And then do another one-year contract until the city is on stable ground. CalPERS is about to hit you with a huge increase in contributions because of the losses that they have incurred. We don’t even pay what we need to pay now. We are in debt to CalPERS for millions.

“To council members who previously voted for this contract, you now have had time to read it and understand what you voted for. You can change your vote and have the respect of the citizens of Antioch. It’s OK to make a mistake if you correct it. Don’t let your mouths write a check that your buttockses can’t cash.”

Former Councilman Ralph Hernandez echoed Fernandez’s remarks.

“I think you need to put off approval of this,” he said. “You need to really look at where is the money at. How are you going to pay for these things? These are not stable expenditures; these are increases that are being proposed and negotiated. You cannot continue to spend and expect good results. The city owes over $100 million in pension debt alone.

“Antioch is, according to FBI reports, the 12th most dangerous city in Northern California. Doesn’t that shock you? Doesn’t that make you want to spend the money more on public safety versus wages and benefit increases across the board? You need basically to take a second look at all of these contracts. Can you afford it? According to city finance and a lot of the records that have come out, you’re headed toward bankruptcy. So if you’re headed toward bankruptcy, do you add more debt? Is that really a smart thing for you up there to do? I don’t think you’re stupid up there.

“I just think that you need to take a new longer term look at all of these contracts. You need to really discuss the implications and the consequences with the employee groups and say, ‘We cannot afford these things.’ Also the city of Antioch needs to quit comparing salaries and benefits and what not with other communities, especially in Contra Costa County. The ability to pay for these things is not equal to the other communities. There was a grand jury report a few years back that basically said that. They suggest that you should also look at contracting certain city services in order to save money.”

Although Wright and Thorpe abstained from voting on the compensation package, they both expressed concern that it was not a wise commitment by their fellow council members along with former members Mayor Wade Harper and Councilwoman Mary Rocha. The Measure C sales tax hike, which has raised more than $13 million since it went into effect in April 2014, is scheduled to expire in 2021 just before the new employee contracts expire.

“There is no money to fund these beyond [the expiration of Measure C],” said Thorpe. “So that is very, very, very concerning to me.” He added that he believes the increased educational compensation benefit to be excessive. “So that’s concerning to me. There’s a whole lot of things that were concerning to me, and I’ll have a difficult time voting for it if I was in the position to do so.”

Thorpe and Wright said they decided to abstain from voting because they were not on the council when the contracts were negotiated with the city employee unions.

Wright said he was told by City Attorney Michael Vigilia and by another attorney that the November vote by the council approving the tentative agreements was legally binding. Failing to ratify those agreements would set the city up for litigation if the employee unions sued – a lawsuit that the city would lose, he said. But Wright indicated he would have liked to have voted against the contracts if it did not incur that legal liability.

“These are contracts that are going to hurt us going forward,” he said. “[I agree with] those that see them as being financially binding to us as a city, they are tying our hands. We are going to be in a rough place. [If renewal of] Measure C does not pass, we are not going to be able to afford these contracts.”

But Councilman Tony Tiscareno dismissed that concern, saying that the council followed the correct contract bargaining process with the city employee unions.

“I’ve been hearing similar complaints and comments throughout my residency here in the city of Antioch,” he said. “There’s a process that’s got to be done. The city of Antioch has to bargain with their employees, whether it’s the police department or the public works department. We have to bargain in good faith with our employees, and we believe we’ve done so. We believe, in my opinion, that we stayed within a budget that was controllable. So I have no qualms about working with our police department and our other workers to provide the great services here in the city of Antioch.

“I think we are doing the right thing. We have one of the best police forces, I believe, in the state of California. They are risking their lives, and they’re not making a whole lot of money. You start seeing a lot of these wages, I think it’s due because we are understaffed and a lot of these folks are working overtime and risking their lives just to provide a safe city out here.

“So I give it to our employees that are providing a service here. Whether some people believe they deserve what they earn, I believe that they do. I think the city has listened and provided all the information to the council so we can make a good decision based on the information that we have gotten. I was comfortable when we were able to approve the MOUs for all the bargaining units.”

Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock agreed with Tiscareno.

“I too feel strongly that the process that we have done in negotiating these contracts, we did do it in good faith,” she said. “We did listen to all parties. I believe we negotiated fairly for the city. I believe the city is moving in a very positive direction. I see a lot of change in the city, and I see a lot of positive change. So therefore, I’m pleased with the way this is going. I understand that there’s a lot of people that’s not [in agreement]. But I’m pleased with this process.”

Councilwoman Monica Wilson, who cast the deciding third vote to approve the contracts, did not speak on the issue. In November she defended the council’s action in response to a charge that it was playing politics by favoring employee unions’ interests over that of city residents.

“When we first came on [the council in 2014] we were only at a four-day work week,” she said. “And we worked really hard to get you guys back to work. And I know a lot of you guys made sacrifices. So to say it was a political move, I really don’t get that. That’s so far from the truth. We all worked really hard and worked really long hours negotiating in good faith. So I do not have a problem tonight going through with all these bargaining unit contracts.”

In other action, the council:

  • Listened to a report from Contra Costa County Fire Protection District officials who want to work with city officials to increase fees on new development to pay for fire protection services.
  • Listened to a report from a consultant on the options for implementing a fee on new development to pay for transportation improvements needed to accommodate that development.
  • Declined to act on a request from Police Chief Allan Cantando to replace a police officer position with a police sergeant position.
  • Directed Cantando to make it a priority to place surveillance cameras at the intersection of 18th Street and Cavallo Road.
  • Asked that the city’s Facebook page provide more information on city events, but that it not be changed to encourage more citizen input on city issues.
  • Directed the finance director to more clearly show in the city budget how much Measure C revenue is going to the police department. Editor’s Note: Look for a further article on this matter.

 

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8 Comments to “Despite bankruptcy warning, Antioch Council affirms $9.2 million pay, benefits hike”

  1. XXX says:

    Oh you have no idea the ramifications . . . the pension and healthcare alone . . . crazy
    Here we go again.

    • Julio says:

      XXX They had better start the layoffs now because they need to start very very soon. All these wonderful positions they hired for will be gone and enough police officers will retire again we can hopefully not lay off but we certainly cannot hire any more. Honestly don’t know how some people can live with themselves.

  2. Marty Fernandez says:

    I will actively campaign against, Lori Ogorchock and Tony Tiscarino in two years. In four years I will actively campaign against Monica Wilson. I will support anyone, anyone running against these 3. Beginning immediately my friends and I will begin our campaign against Measure C and its renewal. The citizens of Antioch will win over this city through activism. Thanks to Karl Dietzel for teaching us how!

    • Rjb says:

      Thank you Marty for accepting the torch to lead.

    • Veronica Barajas says:

      Thank you Marty for standing up and defending the city of Antioch and it’s citizens. We do not want to be in bankruptcy. And we can prevent it and should fight for the rights to be debt free. Please let me know how I can help you. Serious offer.

    • Marty Fernandez says:

      Mr McNell, I have compared Antioch to Bell for several years. Actually it is quite different but kind of the same. Antioch certainly needs investigating by the State such as was done in Bell. Mark Jordan proved that with his lawsuit against the city for misuse of funds. Things just are not right. The payroll department is a disaster and needs a forensic certified public accountant now.

  3. Kthor says:

    Luv how the liberals luv to overpay workers!

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